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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A short story about life and art in Brownsville, Texas - work in progress...

" The Art of Brownsville "
A short story about life and art in Brownsville, Texas
Gabriel Trevino
I don't know if I would have done anything differently. The way things turnout must be for a reason.

"Art is a soup can and dripped paint on a canvas. The artist is a drunk or a drug addict who could never cheat death. The life of the artist always recognized for its genius and tragic end. Only a fool would choose to be an artist, risk eveything for fame and fortune. "

I sat alone pondering again, staring at the paintings which were spread across the room. Eyes wondering about the images, listening to my thoughts as the art communicated with my senses. I knew nothing about art, where it came from and how it had evolved throughtout history. I could only observe and listen to how the art spoke to me. I wasn't an art critic or did I want or had the back ground to be, I simply enjoyed looking at art to learn from it.

I had spent the last five years looking at local art and meeting: artist, gallery owners, museum directors, and art collecters.

Researching art on the internet, reading about the life of Picasso and Pollock, see movies about art, Modigliani, Basquiat and documentaries on Siquidos, Diego Rivera, Andy Warhol.

As a kid I had always been a daydreamer, walking through life in deep thought. Hearing and not listenning , waiting for the last word, as if I already knew what poeple were gonna say. Life simply felt it was repeating itself everyday, only subtly changing ever slightly. Evolution crawling and dragging itself through time.

I was 33 now and reflecting on my life as if it had already been over. I was a self-taught artist living in Brownsville, a city in Texas bordering Matamoros Mexico. Perhaps it was the mood as I was in, a mood shared by many lately. A mood that had spread across the U.S. was a new era for Americans, an era of uncertainty, an era of unemployment, high gasoline prices, and a healthcare system in question. Immigration issues were still unresolved. The war machine was still turning and showed no sign of anyone pulling the plug. I realize I was staring at art inspired by uncertainty... I had stop watching the news, I had discontinued painting on my latest series. I question life and art as I thought about the past..
As a kid, my family and I lived a few blocks away from Brownsville downtown. I think my parents thought it was convinient to live a walking distance from the bridge and my mothers work, where she sold shoes. We lived in a small rented wooden house near the courthouse. I can still remember shouting the words "carambolas mueres" - making holes and playing "canicas". The funny names of several of the stores: "la pichona", "tila", "petras" which were in the neighborhood where we would by milk and eggs still brings me smiles."El disco de oro" a tortilleria we would go buy a dollars worth for my dads lunch as he came in for his one hour break from the cold storage warehouse. It was a humble life, no stranger to poverty. Its important for me to remember how life has been growing up, how my parents educated us me and my four brothers to be good people because it was easy to walk on the wrong side of the tracks, to lose yourself in indulgence. This is a city where poverty is hard to outgrow, where drugs and violence plague some of the streets and alleys. It was the news of drug smuggling and illegal immigrants that heard on a daily basis. For some the idea of growing up to be successful was to find a way out of Brownsville and live up north. But perhaps we were fortunate, my parents were never interested or liked the idea of moving up north or working as migrants in the fields.
Life on the border was different people said all the time, a place where two cultures meet. It was also two cities that kept constantly growing in size but never outgrowing the site of the border patrol on the hunt for illegals, undocumented people: men , woman and children, who had some how crossed the border perhaps in search of a better life. Till this day I could never understand seeing the vehicles driving around town, trucks with a small cabin to load people, I couldn't even picture a dog fitting in there let along a person. I guess some people became numb to the idea or felt they could do nothing about it and continue with there lifes. But you couldn't escape the site , somehow everyone was always reminded when a young kid or a man maded to a street at a stop and juggle lemons for spare change.

I walked the tracks thinking and daydreaming, pass the freeway where I could see the Guadalupe church, or the other way pass the Cameron County Courthouse, pass the Zoo and out to Palm Blvd. There was a period in 9th grade I had joined into a golf team and would practice at the BCC golf course in back of Paredes Line School. After practice I would walk down the tracks all the way down pass Cummings Junior Highschool, up to where the Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts now stands. It was a funny thing when I saw the day the city removed the tracks and put in a bike trail down that path. I was walking in a daydream again, it was my life.
I use to question the idea of how I came to be an artist. I use to think about my natural ability and or natural instinct to draw pictures, if I was somehow always meant to paint or if it was all just a hyped reality concived over a video or a movie. MTV, cable television and the launch of the information super-highway the internet, in America it is easy to think art or being an artist was just another trend. The last impression of popular art the death of Basquiat, and Andy Warhol and living like a rockstar painter was romodel perhaps for the thousands of todays artists. I use to think it was possible to be a victim, a part of that bandwagon, an easy cliche and stereo type of every want to be artist living in America. But I was living in Brownsville, a city sometimes unrecognized as being part of the U.S. , where almost every local artist was tought to be a Chicano artist.
The growth of Brownsville Indipendent Schools District and the University of Texas at Brownsville - created several art related education jobs.

The number of artist seem to be growing in every internet site related to art. Art may perhaps be a mediocre reflection of the past. I think true artists must be of a rare species of people, for art to continue to evolve...
What is art if not a hobby or a retirement plan ? Art in most cases is a positive thing whether you doing it because you are a passionate artist, or because you are retired and feel that art is theraputic. I think the idea of art and who can create it and what art is important is mostly misunderstood. What is the diffence between art sold at Wal-Mart or Target than imports artisans art from Mexico, China or Africa, to art created here locally. Perhaps an educated person would know the difference or atleast some one who knows about art enough to know the difference, all depending of whos art locally speaking.. It is at this point that I find the word art meaningless and unimportant. Fine Art is a jewel, one of a kind a masterpeice skillfully engineered and crafted to the highest standard and quality, I don't know about that...
I once had the idea of donating a painting "self-portrait" to the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art back when they were at the old building back side of UTB next to the National Guard building. I didn't have any intentions but to simply donate a painting that perhaps they can use to sell for a few bucks or what ever they could use it for. It was a portrait of me and my wife with the words that read "arte de venta" 3x4. I remember leaving it at the front desk, with one of the attendants and simply said I wanted to donate the peice. I don't think I knew anything about museum process or what they would do with it, I simply just wanted to contribute something that I could, which was art. I few months later, I was called to pick it up, I was told that a comittee had reviewed it and did not accept it. I am not sure what that meant, but I was beginning to learn about the art world..
I think it as at the 2005 Amigos Artistas "Art in the Park " IBC El Ranchito that I first heard of and saw for the first time the art of Chris Leonard, Cande Aguilar, Oscar Alvarez, Rene Garza, Mauricio Saenz, amongst other several artists from all over the valley. This was also the first time I met Dr. Romeo Montalvo and AA and began to learn about what they were doing to support local art. I think the event really openned our eyes, everyone seemed surprised of the turnout and talent that was all over the valley.
For those who question, how do you understand art ? Perhaps when you connect the art with the artist and the artist to the world, one can begin absorb its beuty, its principles, its history, its feelings and how and if it speaks to oneself.
I have learned to look at art and see it in different ways that capture my interests, the media, the colors, the quality, the substance, the composition, the communication, the mood, the energy, the light and darkness, certainly the artist, the creator and his or her back ground. One of the questions mostly asked by a viewer is how long did it take to creat the work, you begin to think about the engineering process, the amount ouf time put into perfecting the work, perhaps the solitude, and how the artist sacrifices the world for his creations.
Art can be easily put together now, art is self-served. The two minute masterpiece , art created faster than buying a burger at a fast food drive through, is the the time of which we live in. It is hard to admit these things if we are clinging to the past and can not accept the future.
Certainly life has changed living on the border since when I was child back since the late 70's. I have witness the growth of both cities Brownsville and Matamoros go from the simple life to what it is call now Post 9/11. But, I also like the idea that certain things remain the same, perhaps may not be a good thing, depending on what perspective you take on it.
As far as I can remember in Matamoros, the wagon cart street vendors have remain a part of the city, from the elotes to raspas, to fruit cups and dulcerias, I still enjoy the idea. Even riding the peseras has always been nostalgic of sorts for me. I think it was the welded lever that swung the door open and shut and the home made coin shelves that were taped, glued or hammered into place, but made it for easy access for the driver to give change or control the money. Mostly is the idea of how the two cities share its diversities culture and business. An example can be seen in the Wal-Marts, HEB, AutoZones in Matamoros, or the taco resturaunts, panaderias, tortillerias and or the vending vans like "El Rey del Elote" in Brownsville.
If life was a book, I live inside George Orwells "1984", and probably also work in the ministry of truth. I shook my head for a moment thinking what if 1 plus 2 was four, I questioned. What was truth, perhaps the infamous "El Rocinante" might shine a guiding light. One can hope life isn't as cruel as it may seem,in theory perhaps nothing is real and we lay dormant at peace in our slumber. I liberate my mind for a not a second.
I look at the clock and I am thinking here is another day passing by. I take a moment to celebrate life and give thanks for what god has given me. Today I give thanks for the ability to produce art.
In 9th grade I shaved my head leaving only what punks would call a mohawk. I had done it to piss the world off, I was rebelling or thought I was expressing an idea. I remember walking through the hallway with my hair sprayed up into liberty spikes, not everyone thought the same, I became of ware of that when someone threw a knife at me, racing an inch away from my face, I had lucked out, but it didn't bother me.
Perhaps it was the hot days that drove us into madness. Watching another day go by without selling a painting or a drawing, to make enoughe money to buy some groceries, pay the light to keep the air flowing or maybe even new canvasas, paint or brushes. The idea of selling at the local pulga was often frowned upon by some. Some would say art should be of a greater importance and only displayed in a museum. The idea haunted my thoughts. I rather sell a painting go home and put food on the table. The painting was still important, perhaps someday it will make its way into a great wall. Besudes the local museums or galleries weren't exactly knocking at my door, and or I am more simple than I think I am, and have my interests backwords.
But the people smiled, and told me they liked the idea of what I was doing. They never thought about seeing art, it was certainly culture that was brewing. As an artist somehow I have come away meeting half of the city. That is the thing about art, or artist, we get to meet all sorts of interesting people, I like the idea that an artist is like a celebrity. In my experience I have had the great opportunity to meet some very interesting people here in Brownsville, people who appreciate art - Artist, Doctors, Lawyers, Musicians, Politicians, poeople in education both professors and teachers, even resturaunt owners, but all in all guinine people.
One of may favorite events has been the Brownsville Latin Jazz Festival which is hosted by the BSPA and its founder George Ramirez. One of Brownsville largest festival that has welcomed local art to become part of the event.
Sometimes I wake up to the idea that art is a revolution . I can't escape the thought of what we call the art scene "es puro compadrismo" especially now as it seeks to produce its political roots.. The idea of running this art blog sometimes is questionable, I see how I can become inclosed in it, intrapped into the same idea.
Perhaps I don't have to explain my every action. If you know me you know my principles.

I sometimes think big museums are like banks, with the idea that they will do anything it takes to promote the art it houses so that the art remains popular and it doesn't deprecciates in value. I think that is what an art community does, it creates a market and value to the art it produces and if successful it can sustain it.
When I was a kid I can remember the streets were mostly quiet at night, only the hot weather would keep me up at night. I slept on the floor most of the time, near the open door, too keep me cool. Once a week the train would pass and would shake the ground enough to shake the house. You got use to it. We lived three lots away from the tracks. The roar of the train became a part of you, like the memmories of the hot summer.
I can remember staying up sometimes my brothers and I with a couple of other neighbor hood kids, around three in the morning just to rock the train when it passed. I think what upsted the adults was that the train would some time stop and reverse back and forth as if to remind everyone of something. As a kid you could only think of two things when a train passed by throw a rock at it, or climb it and ride it, down to where it passed the courthouse, which was far enough for an adrenalin rush.
I didn't think about art much then, it wasn't part of a mind set or interest. If I checked out a book at the library was to look at the pictures. A name easy to remember in the art world was Dali.
I always thought people walked by me and pretended I didn't exist. As if life was a movie about them and I was part of there background. I am a tree or a pole, anonymous a poster board cutout..
One day I drove around with a bulk of drawings I had made since high school, in my first car I had purchased with some money I had saved while working part time at a cold storage place. It was the day I met Gomez at his office. I remember wanting some direction from somebody who knew about art. I am still not sure what convinced me to drive to the college.
"When I look at a painting I want to see truth."
Truth sometimes hides behind an image or words.
Truth is in many cases faked or distorted by color.
Truth can be transformed into abstract.
Truth will always exist no matter what size or shape.
Truth is as simple to see in a line or a stroke.
Truth is not a matter of culture or religion.
Truth is often mistaken by reality.
Truth is not a reflection of you.
Truth is art if not a lie....
There is no audience, the seats are empty. So I think about art, where it comes from, how is created, who is producing it and perhaps how it is viewed, or atleast how I see it or think it should be. Some argue that art is often repeated, that certain styles have been exhausted and perhaps should not be claimed as new if only recreated. I don't know about that, you can creat your own version of realities, truth maybe only what you beleive it to be.
When I think about art, I don't forget where I am from and don't pretend to be above anyone. I come to realize that in life there is not bottom and there is no top. I have been to the Smithonian in Washington DC, to Museums in both San Antonio and Houston - Texas, been to a handfull of galleries, but nothing brings me more closer to understanding art -than reflecting on my own struggles as a painter and or listening to the ideas and thoughts of my camaradas -local artists.
I am sometimes interested in seeing more contemporary art - whether docorative and or designer art, art of the now and of tomorrow. I like the idea of questioning what people will be custom to decorate there houses with or in simple to hang in there walls, because they see something they connect with.
If you put a bunch of rocks in a museum, that doesn't make it art, it may have it fare share of questioning but in the end it is just rocks.
I think sometimes artists can't escape commercialism, the idea that once you price your art, you sold out to that idea. But art will re invent itself and find new meaning in time regardless of what price it sold for. It is a big misunderstanding I think to say people don't care and don't pay the price, art won't sell from the closet, art is always valued important by someone.

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Art by Rosendo Sandoval - Title:"La que bailo con el diablo " contact:

Art by Rosendo Sandoval - Title:"La que bailo con el diablo " contact:

Historic Brownsville Museum